15. Muhammad Ali
Plenty of boxers can hit hard. But what made Muhammad Ali a champion was his ability to slip past punches and hop around the ring—to “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” in the sometime-poet’s own words. That skill helped Ali apply a beat-down to other heavyweight legends including Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman.
And Ali’s personal life was a sports journalist’s dream: His name change from Cassius Clay after converting to the Nation of Islam, refusing to report for the draft during the Vietnam War (a case that was eventually decided by the Supreme Court), and his ability to spout a near-constant stream of quotes and witticisms all made Ali a cultural icon and a revered competitor.
14. Jackie Robinson
What’s not commonly known is that before Robinson ever played professional baseball, he was one of the country’s greatest all-around amateur athletes. In high school, he lettered in four sports and was an accomplished tennis player.
While at UCLA, he was the point guard on the basketball team, a quarterback, running back, and safety on its football team, a shortstop and leadoff hitter for its baseball team, and the most accomplished long and broad jumper on its track team.
By the time he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947—becoming the first black man to play in the majors— Robinson’s endurance wasn’t a question. That season, he took home Rookie of the Year honors, and two seasons later was voted the National League’s MVP.
Today his uniform number, 42, remains the only one to be retired across all Major League teams.